In a battle of two MAC teams looking for their first FBS win of the season, Buffalo (1-4, 1-0 MId-American Conference) prevailed in overtime over Akron (1-4, 0-1 Mid-American Conference) on a beautiful Saturday afternoon at InfoCision Stadium.
The first half saw some long, sustained scoring drives from both teams, but it turned into a defensive stalemate late. The Bulls defense made the plays they needed to in overtime to give the team a win.
After each team traded a couple of punts to start the game, Buffalo and Akron each put together some impressive drives.
Midway through the first, Akron found themselves pinned back on their own three yard line. On a second down play, QB DJ Irons dropped back to pass and was instantly surrounded by Buffalo pass rushers. It was no sweat for Irons as he used some nifty footwork to find a gap and sprint 47 yards to midfield to get the Zips drive going.
Sophomore receiver Myles Walker doubled his career total in receptions with a couple of first down catches on the drive — he’d finish the day with four catches. To complete the 12-play, 97-yard drive, Irons found running back Drake Anderson for a one-yard score on a dangerous fourth-and-goal attempt.
Not to be outdone, Buffalo responded with an even lengthier touchdown drive. QB Cole Snyder completed seven passes, while three different Bulls had at least one carry on an 18-play, 79 yard drive spanning over nine minutes of game clock, with Snyder finding Boobie Curry for a nine-yard touchdown at the end.
Akron was still able to make use of the six minutes remaining in the second quarter to kick a go-ahead field goal with seconds left in the half. The 38-yard field goal by Owen Wiley — on the first kick of his career — completed a 13-play drive by the Zips.
There was one more mind-numbingly time consuming drive by Buffalo in the second half, but the rest of the game would not see much offensive success for either team. After the 13-play 46-yard, 7:41 drive that resulted in a Bulls field goal, the game became a punt-off, with the teams punting the ball on four-straight possessions.
Midway through the fourth, Grant caused a fumble on DJ Irons that stopped a potential Akron scoring drive. Then in overtime, Grant got a hand on Owen Wiley’s kick to give his team the win after the Bulls had made a 43-yarder to start the extra frame. It is safe to say the sophomore New York native certainly had a game to remember.
For Akron, the pain won’t just be about another close loss, as DJ Irons picked up yet another injury, pressing Jeff Undercuffler into duty on Akron’s last regulation drive and in the overtime period. On the fumble play, Irons hurt his lower leg and was seen limping on the sideline with his left leg wrapped up pretty thick. Moorhead expressed how hard it is to see a player like Irons go down.
“He’s a guy who led us right to the edge of a win on the road in Big Ten territory last week,” he said. “That’s your senior captain quarterback so any time you lose that guy for a play, a drive, a quarter, there is certainly an emotional component that goes with it as well.”
The Zips defense was stingy against the run all day, allowing 112 yards on 3.1 yards per carry. Linebackers Bryan McCoy and Antavious Fish were all over the field as they have been all year, stifling Buffalo’s run game. The way these two have played has eased a concern for head coach Joe Moorhead.
“The challenge heading into the season was losing Bubba (Arslanian) who was here for six years and an all-MAC player,” Moorhead said. “Bryan and Antavious are really playing at a high level right now.”
As for the Zips pass defense, defensive end CJ Nunnally IV continued to be a force in the pass rush, picking up two more sacks to bring his season total to a team-leading five. Defensive backs KJ Martin, Darrian Lewis and Corey Thomas Jr. all held it down on their end of the field. Moorhead recognizes the job the defensive unit has done but knows execution on one side of the ball isn’t enough.
“Our defense executed at a high level and we wasted another really good performance by them,” he said. “Time after time, we got stop after stop after stop. We gave up some third down conversions but at the end of the day, they only put the ball in the end zone once.”
Buffalo’s defense also shined on Saturday, and was enough to give them the win. Linebacker Joe Andressen chipped in with a bunch of tackles. Defensive end Red Murdock added two sacks to his ledger, but it was safety Devin Grant who was the player of the game.
Akron will be looking for their first conference win when they take on Northern Illinois next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Eastern at home.
Buffalo has an opportunity to carry some momentum when they face Central Michigan next Saturday at 2 p.m. Eastern, also at home.